Senate Panel Rejects Haley Roll Call Plea

February 16, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveOver the past three years, Nikki Haley has fought to ban anonymous voting in the S.C. General Assembly – first as a House member and now as governor.

Late Tuesday afternoon, she spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee – an unusual move for a governor – pleading once again for one of her signature causes. And once again, to her disappointment, a group of senators shot her down.

The committee approved a House bill (H. 3004) that is identical in substance to the one that then-Rep. Haley, a Lexington Republican, introduced in 2009 requiring roll call votes on second readings of bills and resolutions, and other key votes.

But a Senate Judiciary subcommittee last week voted 3-2 to amend the bill to make it effective only upon ratification of a constitutional amendment, which likely couldn’t happen until 2013 at the earliest. The bill, as it was originally written, would be effective immediately upon the governor’s signature.

After lengthy debate Tuesday, the full committee upheld the subcommittee’s amendment in a 12-9 vote. Ironically, the tally was done by a show of hands, not by a recorded roll call vote.

Haley said during the hearing that she supports roll call rule changes adopted separately by the House and Senate, and a constitutional amendment making recorded voting more permanent. But she contended that an overwhelming majority of voters statewide want an immediate state law requiring roll call voting.

“We all want on-the-record voting.” she said. “What I’m asking is, give it to us now.”

A clearly frustrated Haley told The Nerve after the committee’s vote: “It is unbelievable to me that we are debating the fact whether legislators voting on the record is constitutional or not. This law should go into effect today. We got a vote of nine people – nine senators – who agreed that it should go into effect today, and I applaud them.”

About a dozen interested citizens stayed for the debate which didn’t begin until about 5 p.m. – two hours after the hearing, which included discussion on other unrelated bills, started – and ended about 7 p.m. Included among the group was Greenville retiree Don Rogers, who attended last week’s subcommittee hearing.

Rogers told The Nerve afterward that he was upset with the dozen senators who voted to amend the House bill.

“It’s too bad we have to fight for three years to get something that is simple and straightforward,” he said.

In a related matter, the full committee modified a proposed constitutional amendment (S. 288), at the request of Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, to require roll call votes on second reading of bills and joint resolutions. The previous version, sponsored by Sen. Chip Campsen, R- Charleston, allowed, though it didn’t mandate, the Legislature to require recorded votes.

The committee also added another amendment, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, to the House bill that would require roll call votes on any amendment to a bill or joint resolution.

Haley told Malloy during the hearing that she supported his idea but asked that it be done in a separate bill, predicting that amendments to the House bill would “kill the bill.” Haley called on the committee to send a “clean” House bill – that is, in its original form – to the Senate floor for debate.

Talbert Black Jr., interim state coordinator of Campaign for Liberty, a citizens’ organization that promotes limited government and individual liberty, told The Nerve afterward that he worries that Malloy’s amendment is a “poison pill.”

“Obviously, the ideal would have been to pass the bill exactly as it passed the House,” Black said.

Malloy, an attorney, was civil during his debate with Haley. Another senator-attorney and opponent of the House bill, however, treated his exchange with Haley more like a courtroom cross-examination.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, initially asked Haley, “Are you aware we already vote on the record now?” referring to the Senate’s vote last month to change Senate rules to require more roll call voting.

Haley responded that though she was aware of the rules change, “What I’m asking is that we pass a law so that it is a permanent law that everyone feels good that we are voting on the record.”

“I strongly believe that rules protect legislators; laws protect people,” the governor said.

That answer didn’t apparently please Hutto, who shot back, “So you just don’t want to answer my question, is that right? Do you understand we vote on the record now? … Just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”

At another point during their debate, Hutto challenged Haley’s earlier statement that “what the people want trumps everything.”

“You said that a majority of the people can do what they want regardless of the constitution,” Hutto charged.

“That’s not what I said,” Haley responded. “What I said was, I think that we need to follow the will of the people. I think people don’t think that this (the House bill) is unconstitutional.”

The Nerve after the meeting confirmed from Senate Judiciary staffers that Hutto put a “minority report” on the bill, a procedural move that places a bill on the contested calendar, or essentially at the bottom of the debate list. Under Senate rules, a bill with an attached minority report can be moved off the contested calendar if the senator who initiated the report agrees to remove it with the unanimous consent of other present senators.

A bill on the contested calendar also can be moved up to a special order calendar either by a majority vote of present senators if approved by a majority of the Senate Rules Committee, or by a two-thirds vote of the chamber if the motion is made outside the Rules Committee.

(Martin, the Rules Committee chairman, told The Nerve this afternoon that he would push to get the House bill to the “top of our calendar,” though he said it likely would be until next week at the earliest to try to move it to the special order calendar because of two other unrelated bills currently under debate.)

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland, would require roll call voting for:

  • Second readings of bills or joint resolutions;
  • Section-by-section adoption on the second reading of the state budget bill;
  • Approval of amendments sent over from the other chamber;
  • Amended third readings of bills or joint resolutions; and
  • Adoption of conference committee reports.

Then a House member, Haley introduced her identical bill (H. 3047) in 2009, but it was stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee for more than a year before it unanimously passed the House last March. Ballentine was among 52 co-sponsors of that bill.

When her bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, it was assigned to a three-member subcommittee headed by Martin.

It remained in the subcommittee until late May when Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, convinced a slim majority of his Senate colleagues to move it directly to the Senate floor for debate.

But McConnell and Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington and a subcommittee member, effectively killed any debate by placing their names on the bill to contest it.

McConnell – arguably the most powerful member of the Senate – made it clear Tuesday that he would not support Ballentine’s House bill without an accompanying constitutional amendment. McConnell, Hutto,  Knotts and Malloy were among the dozen senators who upheld last week’s subcommittee amendment.

“I do have a constitutional problem – not that I believe that roll call voting is unconstitutional,” McConnell said. “It’s how you get there. We got there constitutionally by amending the rules. If you want a statute you have to amend the constitution to grant to the General Assembly the authority to make rules for both houses.”

To pass a constitutional amendment, it takes a two-thirds vote of each chamber to place it on a statewide election ballot, a majority of voters to approve it, and a majority of lawmakers to ratify it if approved by voters.

Under the amended House bill passed Tuesday, voters likely wouldn’t vote on a constitutional amendment until the November 2012 election; ratification couldn’t occur until the Legislature reconvened in January 2013.

McConnell contended that Senate rules, as amended last month, “requires way more roll call voting” than the House bill.

Larry Martin, who sponsored the resolution to amend the Senate rule, said Tuesday that the rule was more stringent than the proposed statute, though he earlier said during the debate that there’s “not one scintilla of difference in what we’re doing now versus what we would be doing by the law here in question.”

Martin told The Nerve in December that he favored a roll call voting law but only if accompanied by a constitutional amendment, and prefiled two bills to accomplish that purpose.

He said then that without a constitutional amendment, any new law likely could not be reviewed by the S.C. Supreme Court if challenged. That, in turn, he explained, could result in a future Legislature watering down a newly passed law without any legal recourse.

Martin in last week’s subcommittee hearing voted against making the House bill effective upon ratification of a constitutional amendment. In Tuesday’s hearing, he said the proposed effective date by linking the two was “more form than substance.” He was among the nine senators who voted Tuesday against linking the two.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who also was among the group of nine, said relying solely on the Senate’s rule-making authority can lead to extreme results.

“We can shut the doors to the General Assembly. We can turn off the TVs. We can close the blinds,” Davis said. “Everything is going to be off the record, and we can do that because we have the right to determine our own rules and procedure.”

Sen. Mike Rose, R-Dorchester, pointed out that he unsuccessfully last month offered a proposal to change the Senate roll call voting rule to incorporate an enacted roll call voting statute.

That, he explained, would be a more immediate solution than linking a statute with a constitutional amendment, though he noted that he supports an amendment.

“There’s another way to skin this cat,” Rose said.

Like Davis and Martin, Rose voted against making the House bill effective upon ratification of a constitutional amendment. The other six senators who voted against linking the two were Shane Martin; Phillip Shoopman, R-Greenville; Shane Massey, R-Edgefield; Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg; Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown; and Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org.